Seeing as how this is their 49th trip to the postseason, it should come as little surprise that there are only six franchises (besides themselves) that the Yankees have never played in the postseason–if, of course, you’re not surprised that there are even that many. Recent history, however, suggests that they’ll soon be seeing one of those six; namely, the Tampa Bay Rays.
I’m sure you all know that only one team has forced a Game 7 after trailing a best-of-7 series 3 games to 0, and that that team, the 2004 Boston Red Sox, won Game 7. But what about teams that have rallied from a 2-0 hole to force Game 5 in a best-of-5 series, such as the Rays have done this year? The Rays are the eleventh such team. The first four, interestingly enough, all involved strike-shortened seasons. In 1972, a very brief strike took out the first week or so of the season, and because it was so little (or should that be “despite the fact that it was so little”?), it was decided that they’d just forget about the games that were missed, and if teams didn’t all play the same number of games, then so be it. Some teams played as few as 153 games, others as many as 156. Stupidly, this actually had an effect on the postseason, as Detroit ended up winning the AL East by just half a game. Once there, the Tigers fell into an 0-2 hole against Oakland, only to rally back to force Game 5. They lost. The next strike, of course, was 1981, and unlike the brief strike in 1972 or the one that spanned the 1994 and 1995 seasons, the ’81 strike was in the middle of the season. This led to a “split season” format similar to what they use in the minor leagues, culminating in the first ever LDS, albeit in a more literal sense as these teams were actually playing for the title of Division Champion. The Expos, Astros, Yankees, and Athletics all jumped out to 2-0 leads, but only the A’s finished the sweep, and on October 11, three Game 5s were played. New York and Montreal managed to turn back their opponents, the Brewers and Phillies respectively, but the Astros weren’t so lucky, losing to the Dodgers. It was this last one that started a trend. The remaining six teams to force Game 5 after trailing 2-0–the 1982 Brewers, 1984 Padres, 1995 Mariners, 1999 Red Sox, 2001 Yankees, and 2003 Red Sox–all won Game 5. Don’t be surprised if the Rays win tonight.
Been on an archive binge again, and I decided to look at my predictions and early impressions posts. First, the good. In the AL East, I predicted that the Yankees and Rays would be in the division race until the final week of the season and that one of them would be the wild card. However, I failed to predict that the other would win the division, although in all fairness, it was impossible to predict the number of injuries Boston would have and they still weren’t mathematically eliminated until Game 157, so I think I did fairly well. Only problem was the order of the bottom two in the division, but a lot of people made that error. Also, the NL East. Perfect. The Phillies were division champions, the Braves were second and were the wild card, the Marlins and Mets were almost in a dead heat for third, and the Nationals are both in last place and only picking 6th or 7th in the 2011 draft. NL Central wasn’t horrible, either. I had the Pirates as the worst team in baseball, which they were, and I had the Astros fifth and the Brewers fourth–they were actually fourth and third, but only 1 and 2 games ahead of the fifth-place team, respectively. I said the Reds would “make some noise”, and they exceeded my expectations, winning the division handily. My only real mistake was expecting the Cubs (the aforementioned 5th-place team) to be good.
Not so good: The AL Central, AL West, and NL West. The Central I called a “three-team race”, and while I did correctly pick the top three teams, it wasn’t very close at all as the division was the first to be clinched, and furthermore the team I picked to win it finished a distant third and was more or less out of contention in August. The AL West I called a “mystery”, and didn’t really say much explicitly until we got to the playoff predictions, which revealed that despite my faint praise, I had picked the Mariners to come out of that jumble. The Mariners went on to lose 101 games and set new records for offensive futility, as well as revealing that Don Wakamatsu had a case of “John Gibbons Syndrome”. Ouch. The NL West, I called a “four-team race”, making cases for the four teams in question and failing to actually pick a winner, saying that “all I’m willing to predict is that the Padres will finish in last place.” The Padres entered the final day of the season tied with the Braves for the wild card lead and just 1 game behind the Giants, whom they were playing, for the NL West title, and furthermore if they won and the Braves lost, the Pads had the tiebreaker to get the division title and relegate the Giants to wild card status. They ended up losing and the Braves won, denying them a chance to play a 163rd game (not that that went particularly well for them in 2007), but still, bad. And Arizona’s collapse last year wasn’t a fluke, as they turned in the third-worst record in the majors. Yeah, you can blame part of that on the fact that their longtime ace was out for the entire year (remember him?), but it also became obvious that their rotation had never been more than two deep and they had no bullpen. In other words, they’re the pre-Nolan Ryan-era Texas Rangers. (Ryan’s time with the Rangers as an executive, not as a player.) And when their other best pitcher got off to a bad start as well, it was a ticket to last place. The “other best pitcher” then got traded mid-season.
Also, as the “early impressions” blog suggested, the Giants, who beat out the Padres for the division, appeared to have been my choice for #4. Another conclusion that can be reached from early impressions: I said this early order for the AL West was “almost exactly counter to my expectations”, with Mariners over Angels being the only thing I had right:
Thus, my prediction would have been:
Now look at the actual final standings:
That means that, once again, only one out of a possible six relative positions was as I expected, in this case, Rangers ahead of A’s. It’s really hard to screw up that badly.
Way back on Tuesday, the number of teams who had clinched playoff spots went from 3 to 6–including going from 4 to 6 in under a minute, as Jay Bruce’s walkoff home run gave the Reds the NL Central just seconds before Lyle Overbay grounded out to Alex Rodriguez to end the Yankees’ 6-1 win over Toronto, clinching a playoff spot for the Yanks. Flash forward to the final day of the season, and…it’s still 6 teams that have clinched playoff spots, and only four that have clinched divisions, and only three know their exact seed. Pretty much the same as it was on Tuesday. The only difference is that the Twins still had a chance at being the top seed in the AL then, and now they don’t because they trail the Yankees and Rays by one game and lost the season series to both teams so regardless of which one wins the division, they wouldn’t have home field against them in the second round. (Actually, the season series against the Yanks is a moot point, because with the one game difference now they’d only have the same record as the AL East champion if both the Yankees and Rays lost, in which case the Rays would be division champions.) Actually, never mind–the Reds lost the season series to both the Giants and the Padres, so they also know that they’ll be starting the postseason on the road as the NL 3-seed. So, that’s also changed from Tuesday.
What we still don’t know: The AL East champion and wild card and the NL West champion and NL wild card. It seems like there was something wrong with that last sentence, but there wasn’t, because we do know that the AL wild card is coming from the AL East, while we don’t know which division the NL wild card is coming from. The scenarios:
The Yankees and Rays have identical records at 95-66. If the Yankees win and the Rays lose, the Yankees will have the best record in the American League and will start at home against the Rangers, while the Rays will start the playoffs in Minnesota as the AL wild card. If the Rays win or the Yankees lose, the Rays will win the AL East and the top seed in the American League and will host Texas to start the playoffs.
San Francisco is 91-70, and San Diego and Atlanta are both 90-71. (Cincinnati is also 90-71, but that’s irrelevant as they are the NL Central champion and lost the season series to both potential NL West champions.) San Francisco and San Diego are playing each other. If the Giants and Braves both win, the Giants are NL West champions and the Braves are the NL Wild Card, and as a result they will play each other in the NLDS. If the Giants and the Braves both lose, the Padres are the NL West champions by virtue of a 13-5 advantage in the season series over the NL wild card Giants, and the Padres will host the Reds to start the playoffs while the Giants travel to Philadelphia. If the Padres and Braves both lose, the Giants will be the NL West champions, and the Braves would host the Padres for a one-game playoff to determine the NL wild card, with the Braves facing the Giants in the NLDS if they win and the Padres facing the Phillies if they win. If the Padres and Braves both win, the Padres would host the Giants for a one-game playoff to determine the NL West champion, with the loser then going to Atlanta for a one-game playoff to determine the NL wild card. Oh, by the way…the current series between the Padres and Giants is in San Francisco, while the one-game playoff would be in San Diego. Furthermore, this year the NL is the league where the team with the best record gets to choose which series they want, the one that starts Wednesday or the one that starts Thursday. And they don’t have to make that choice until they know who their opponent will be. Which, if the Braves and Padres both win today, would take until Tuesday. You’ve got to figure that if the NL West runner-up wins that game, the Phillies would have to take the Wednesday start, thereby making the NL West runner-up play four games in four cities in four days. This would no doubt break the record held by, well, probably a number of teams, most recently the Phillies who stopped in Colorado on September 2 for a make-up game in between a series in Los Angeles and the start of a home stand (first series was against the Brewers). However, that was at least all in the same direction. Granted, this four-city tour would only have one trip that crossed time zones, which would make it probably less hectic than the trip the Angels made in 2005, when there was no off-day scheduled between games 4 and 5 of the ALDS and a rainout pushed Game 4 back a day. The Angels and Yankees played Game 4 in New York, then (as always) had to head to Anaheim for Game 5 the next day after the Yankees tied the series at 2-2 with the Game 4 win, and then because of the rain, Game 1 of the ALCS in Chicago was the very next day. New York to Anaheim to Chicago. Quite the trip. San Francisco to San Diego to Atlanta to Philadelphia wouldn’t quite be the same, even if it is more cities, because two of the three trips don’t involve a change in time zone
and one of them doesn’t even involve a change in state California’s a f***ing long state and San Diego is right at the southern border; it’s a pretty long distance. Not quite as long as Atlanta to Philadelphia, but over two-thirds the length (453 miles vs. 656 miles). Also, does the fact that San Francisco would need to win a Game 163 to win the NL West if they lost today make the Cincinnati-San Francisco season series also a moot point? Technically, the NL West champion would have a better record than Cincinnati by half a game if they won it in a playoff (assuming Cincy wins today). The only way the NL West champion and Cincinnati have identical records is if San Diego beats San Francisco Cincinnati wins, and Atlanta loses, leaving San Diego, San Francisco, and Cincinnati at 91-71 and Atlanta at 90-72. So, the overall draft order for next year will look like…
3. Probably Arizona. How do they determine draft order when teams in opposite leagues finish with identical records, anyway? Arizona is 1 game worse than Baltimore right now.
4. Baltimore, unless it’s Arizona
5. Kansas City, because they won the season series with Baltimore and have a 1-game edge. Season series is the tiebreaker in draft order, right?
6. Washington, because they took 2 of 3 from KC (who they’re 1 game better than) and lost 2 of 3 to Cleveland (who they’re 1 game worse than. Or should that be “whom”?)
8. and 9. The loser and winner of today’s Cubs-Astros game, respectively
11-16. Florida, the Mets, both Los Angeles teams, Oakland, and Detroit. The Tigers and A’s are one game better than the other four, and none of the teams play each other so that doesn’t help. On the AL side, Detroit and Oakland split their season series, while the Angels were 10-8 against Oakland and 4-6 against Detroit. (Would a three-way tie then see Oakland pick first, then Los Angeles and then Detroit?) The NL is much clearer, as Los Angeles lost the season series to both Florida and New York and Florida handily took the series against New York. In interleague, Detroit lost 2 of 3 to both the Mets and the Dodgers and didn’t play the Marlins; the Angels took 5 of 6 from the Dodgers and didn’t play the Mets or Marlins, and the A’s didn’t play any of those three teams. So it’s anyone’s guess who ends up where.
17. Most likely Colorado, who are one game worse than Toronto
18. Most likely Toronto, but they were swept by Colorado in interleague so they could move up a spot
19. St. Louis, because they took 2 of 3 from Toronto
20. Chicago (AL)…probably.
21. Boston, unless they lose and the White Sox win, because the White Sox were 6-1 against them.
22-26. San Francisco, San Diego, Cincinnati, Texas, and Atlanta. As mentioned before, Cincy, Atlanta, and San Diego have identical records, with San Francisco one game better. Texas has the same record as Cincinnati/Atlanta/San Diego. However, it is quite obvious that the Gia
nts can end up in the #22 slot, because if they miss the playoffs entirely they will have to have lost today’s game, the one-game playoff against the Padres for the division, and the one-game playoff against the Braves for the wild card, at which point they’d be 91-73 and would have the worst record of the five even if Texas and/or Cincinnati lost today (90-72=.556; 91-73=.555) Funny how that works out, isn’t it? I don’t think Cincinnati can fall to #26, though, because they lost the season series with all three of the other NL teams. At best (worst?) they could be #25, if they’re the only one of the four 90-71 teams to win today (or possibly if Texas won as well–the Rangers didn’t play any of those four teams in interleague).
28. The AL Wild Card
29. The AL East Champion
AS cheesy as MLB’s slogan may be, you have to admit that October is where legends are born. All together now…
Branca throws. There’s a long drive, it’s gonna be, I believe. … The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! Bobby Thomson hits it into the lower deck of the left-field stands! The Giants win the pennant! And they’re going crazy! Ohhhhh-oh!! (pause for crowd noise) I don’t believe it! I don’t believe it! …The Giants win by a score of 5 to 4… and they’re pickin’ Bobby Thomson up… and they’re carryin’ him off the field!
Bobby Thomson, whose immortal “Shot Heard Round the World” clinched the 1951 National League pennant for the New York Giants in the deciding game of a best-of-three playoff with the Brooklyn Dodgers, passed away on Monday at the age of 86. Meanwhile, this year’s Giants can only hope they can find similar success. Last night’s loss to Philadelphia puts them 1 game behind the Phillies in the wild card race, while the Padres won again to take a 5-game lead in the NL West. It’s funny, isn’t it? The NL West was supposed to be one of the most tightly contested divisions, and the Padres–the one team no one thought stood a chance–have the second-largest division lead. It seems to be like that all around. The AL West was supposed to be anyone’s to win with the long-dominant Angels having fallen back to earth and the Mariners having improved so much in the offseason, but the M’s faltered and the Rangers have run away with it. The AL Central, which has gone to a 1-game playoff each of the past two years, was supposed to be a three-team race between Detroit, Chicago, and Minnesota, and for awhile it was. Then Detroit fell apart, and currently the Twins have a 4-game lead, the third-largest. Then again, four games isn’t really that much, and it wasn’t even a week ago that the Twins and White Sox were tied after splitting the first two games of a three-game series. The Twins took the rubber game on Thursday, swept a three-game series over the weekend while Chicago lost two of three, then took game one of another three-game series with the White Sox last night. This being the AL Central, nobody’s really out of it until they’re mathematically out of it. Speaking of which…I haven’t been charting the season since early May. I fell behind on it while preparing for finals and never caught up. I keep meaning to, but the longer I put it off, the more daunting a task it becomes…
Elsewhere in baseball, former starter Hisanori Takahashi has been named the Mets’ new closer. I’m sure there’s something stupid to say here; I’m just not sure what it is. Also, this. Depending on how you look at it, this makes my job either a lot easier or a lot harder.
After a period of being consigned to the house computer since coming home from college, I finally got my laptop set up with internet access again on Monday, and right away, I was battling with an annoying virus. The anti-virus program kept freezing up before it could finish its task, but the virus seems to have disappeared so I’m not going to keep up the fight. While waiting out the virus scans, however, I happened to check in on the games, and found that ESPN.com had “featured” three games, one of which hadn’t even started and all three of which involved teams from a certain division–the AL East. The Yankees-Indians game was an obvious one, as A-Rod is still sitting on 599. (It’s not his only “X99”, either–he’s got 299 career stolen bases, putting him one away from becoming the 7th member of the 300-300 club. In order by homers, Barry Bonds, 762/514; Willie Mays, 660/338; Andre Dawson, 438/314; Bobby Bonds, 332/461; Reggie Sanders, 305/304; and Steve Finley, 304/320. The all-time stolen base leader, Rickey Henderson, fell just three homers short. I found this out because YES offered “who are the only three players with 400 HR and 300 SB?” as a trivia question on Sunday, the day Dawson was enshrined in the Hall of Fame.) The Red Sox-Angels game, which hadn’t even started, was somewhat of a mystery–maybe it was for Lackey’s return to Anaheim? (Nope, that wasn’t until Tuesday; Monday was Dan Haren’s first start with the Angels. They did the same thing for Cliff Lee’s first start with the Rangers, which also went poorly, though without the injury.) But the Rays-Tigers game…I opened up the box score to find a double-no-hitter in progress in the bottom of the sixth, the second time this year a game had been hitless on both sides that late in the game. (That one got a featured game tag, too, despite neither side getting the no-hitter.) Max Scherzer was unable to hold onto their no-hitter as Matt Joyce hit a two-out grand slam in the bottom of the sixth (two walks and a catcher’s interference having loaded the bases), but Matt Garza became the fifth pitcher of the year to complete a no-hitter, the first in Rays history. (The next morning, one of the ESPN people cracked that it was the second time this year the Tigers had a no-hitter broken up by a guy named Joyce.) With the Rays joining the Rockies as teams earning their first no-hitters this season, only the Padres and the Mets are without no-hitters in their franchises’ histories. Also, an odd note: the Rays acquired Matt Joyce from the Tigers prior to the 2009 season in a trade for Edwin Jackson. After one year, the Tigers traded Jackson to Arizona for…Max Scherzer, whose no-hitter Joyce broke up. And then Jackson went and no-hit the Rays as a Diamondback earlier this year. (On that note, today’s Phillies-Diamondbacks game matches Jackson against Roy Halladay–no-hitter versus perfect game. Incredible.) With the trading deadline not yet upon us, we stand just two no-hitters shy of tying the modern record for a season–and it would be one away if not for Jim Joyce’s bad call. Bring it on.
I’ve been keeping busy with other sports–and some non-sports entertainment–over the offseason, so I’m not 100% dialed in to the goings-on of baseball, but nonetheless, it’s time to at least make an attempt at predicting things.
AL East: As per usual, the AL East is quite possibly the toughest in all of baseball, and will likely be the source of the Wild Card. Now, I know that I am not unbiased, but I believe the Red Sox will take the division due to the depth of their rotation. When it was announced that Daisuke Matsuzaka would miss the start of spring training due to injury, I wasn’t really worried, because for all that he cost to get, he’s basically the Sox’ number 4 now, behind Beckett/Lester/Lackey (arrange these three however you like, although that’s probably the order I’d put them), and they’ve got Buchholz and Wakefield behind that, so even without Dice-K, they’ve still got a solid 5-man rotation. The Yankees and Rays should both still be in the division race up until the final week, though, and either one could end up as the wild card–it comes down to the Yanks’ aging veterans vs. the Rays’ unproven youngsters, particularly where the rotations are concerned (although the Yanks also have some unproven youngsters at the tail end of the rotation). Baltimore, for some reason, is optimistic about this year, while Toronto is known to be in a rebuilding year, so I’ll say that the Jays finish in last place and the Orioles in fourth.
AL Central: Another three-team race. I’ll give the edge to the Tigers, but I wouldn’t give anyone in this division more than a 35% chance of reaching the playoffs–the Tigers, Twins, and White Sox are that close.
AL West: A definite mystery. The Angels have definitely taken a step back and fallen back to the pack, to the point that I’m pretty sure I heard one person on the radio call the West a three-team race between the A’s, Rangers, and Mariners at one point during the offseason. I’m not sure if I’d go that far, though–it’s still the Angels we’re talking about here. The Mariners definitely made great strides during the offseason, trading for Cliff Lee and signing Chone Figgins as a free agent, but I’m worried they still don’t have enough star power to make it last–I’m not even really sure who their 3-5 starters are, and the lineup is decidedly small-ball. Then again, who in this division really does have serious star power?
NL East: The Phillies are still the class of the NL and should be able to make it four straight division titles and three straight NL pennants, at which point the talking heads will start to wonder how long it will be until we can start calling them a dynasty (yes, even if they lose the World Series again–after all, the ’90s/early ’00s Braves were a dynasty despite only winning one World Series, weren’t they? Okay, maybe not.) The Braves are my favorites to finish second, and possibly earn the Wild Card. The Mets have improved over the offseason and could end up in third if they stay healthy, or they could land in fourth. The Nationals will likely finish last in the division again, but will probably pick no higher than fourth and possibly as low as eighth in the 2011 draft rather than the #1 spot they’ll have for the second year in a row in 2010.
NL Central: To be honest, I really haven’t followed the NL that closely. I know that the Pirates will be in last place again, and that the Astros still aren’t terribly good and seem most likely to land in fifth, and that Milwaukee is a far cry from their 2008 wild card berth, but that’s about it. The Cubs and the Cardinals should slug it out again, and, like almost every other year, I’m going to say that the Reds could make some noise. (Note that I make this prediction almost every year, although I think I skipped it last year, and it hasn’t actually come true since 2006, when they still finished in third but weren’t eliminated from the division race until the penultimate day of the season.)
NL West: If the Braves don’t win the Wild Card, expect it to come from this division. This may be a four-team race, as the Dodgers and Rockies, both postseason teams last year, should not have fallen off much, the Giants are still a team on the rise (again, see last year), and the Diamondbacks…well, I still have no clue why they faltered so much. They won the division in 2007 and were in the hunt late in 2008, and they made humongous upgrades in the ’08-’09 offseason…and inexplicably were a complete non-factor in 2009. I can only dismiss this as a fluke, and I think they’ll compete this year. Who will win this division? Your guess is as good as mine; all I’m willing to predict is that the Padres will finish in last place.
Playoffs: Like I said, I’m not really sure who most of the NL teams will be, and frankly I don’t really care because the Phillies are far better than anyone else in the league in my mind and will win the NL pennant. As for the AL, I’m going to predict Red Sox over Tigers and Rays over Mariners in round 1, followed by…Red Sox over Rays in the ALCS, and then…ooh, this is a tough one. They say pitching wins championships, and nobody has better pitching (if they’re healthy) than the Red Sox, which is why I picked them this far (yes, the Rays could also outhit the Red Sox, but their pitching, while good, is not good enough). But the Phillies rotation, while not as deep, is probably even stronger at the top, and their lineup is quite possibly the best in either league. Then again, you have to look beyond the simple skills and consider the matchups. For some reason, the Red Sox never really had much trouble with Halladay, which is odd because the Red Sox usually struggle with the Blue Jays, period. Lackey, while never terribly good against his new team regardless, was especially bad at Fenway, so if he ends up as the #3 and the AL wins the All-Star Game again, that’s all the better–and if the NL somehow pulls it out and the Sox pitch Lackey in Games 2 and 6, even better. So…it’ll be a close one, but I think the Red Sox can make it 3 titles in 7 years.
Even when the races are dull, they’re interesting. This year marks the third straight year that a one-game playoff will be required after 7 straight years without one. While the first half of the decade had a few tight races as well–the 2003 NL wild card was a multi-team scrum, IIRC, that the eventual World Champion Marlins were considered a long shot to come out of on top, and if I remember correctly, the Cubs, who ended up winning their division, were leading that race for much of the final weeks; no division in the NL was won by more than 2 games in 2001, with the wild card having the same record as their division’s champion–but the second half of the decade has produced some real memorable ones. There’s 2005, where with three days remaining, the White Sox clinched their division in the strangest way possible, holding a 3-game lead over Cleveland, who they were to play in the final three, while Cleveland was merely tied for the wild card lead; the White Sox were assured a playoff spot because the team Cleveland was tied with, Boston, was also playing their division leader, the Yankees, and were only one game back, so were they to sweep, they’d be outright division champions and Chicago and Cleveland would still both be in the playoffs were Cleveland to sweep. The NL wild card also came down to the final day that year. Then there was 2006, and the Twins’ unlikely division championship. Prior to the final weekend of the season, the Twins had led the division for all of about maybe six hours, when Detroit lost a day game to drop into a virtual tie, percentage points behind; Minnesota lost that night. By the time the Twins tied it up with three days remaining, both teams had already clinched playoff spots, so the Twins, lacking the tiebreaker, still weren’t really in first place. Minnesota lost the first two and won the third; Detroit got swept in rather painstaking fashion, by the last-place Royals, who incidentally lost the #1 pick in the draft as a result, finishing 1 game better than the Devil Rays. Over on the National League side, 2006 was the year of Houston’s mad dash that came up short. With 12 days remaining, the Cardinals seemed to have the NL Central locked up, holding a 7 game lead over second place Cincinnati. They then went on a 7-game losing streak that included a sweep at the hands of the Astros, and so 9 days later, the Reds were still in it, 2.5 back, but now in third place, with the Astros a mere half game behind the Cardinals. Had that run been completed, all of this other “history-making”, with the Mets-Phillies in ’07 and Twins-Tigers this year, would have been moot–8.5 games in 12 days. Alas, it was not meant to be. (Another division was decided by a tiebreaker that year, the Padres over the wild-card Dodgers). 2007, of course, saw the Mets cough up the NL East and the Rockies win 13 of 14 to force a one-game tiebreaker for the wild-card, but what was forgotten in all of that was that had the Rockies won the one game they lost in that span, there would still have been a tiebreaker–between the Diamondbacks, the team that beat them and that won the division, and the Padres. The race was that close. Compared to all of that, the past two years have been relatively mundane. Hell, this year, almost every race was decided with nearly a week to spare–and yet, we still have a one-game playoff.
The title, by the way, was Detroit manager Jim Leyland’s response when asked if he was concerned about Rick Porcello starting such an important game at such a young age.
We’re coming into the final stages. The Yankees are on the edge of locking up a playoff spot, which could happen as early as today should they win and the Rangers lose. Also almost ready: the first “partial position lock”, a condition where a team cannot catch the team immediately in front of them in the division standings. A full position lock, of course, is when a team knows exactly where they will place in the division. Wait…actually, there’s already been a partial position lock, over in the NL East, between the third-place Braves and the fourth-place Mets. That appears to have happened…after the Mets lost to the Braves on Thursday, actually, which was the Mets’ 84th loss, while the Marlins and Braves both had 78 wins and the season series against the Mets already in hand. There is a possible full position lock today (two, actually)–if the Mets beat the Nats, it will lock the Nats into 5th place and the Mets into 4th. Other potential partial position locks: A Giants win or a Padres loss will drive a lock between them (SF wins + SD losses currently totals 162, but the Padres lead the season series 9-6), and, amazingly, a Red Sox win and a Rays loss knocks the Rays out of the wild card race and guarantees the Red Sox at least second place in the AL East. (Chicago can’t lock up third or better yet, even with a win and a Cleveland loss, because their lead in the season series is only 8-7.)
At the beginning of the month, the Tigers looked like a hot team, someone you wouldn’t want to face in the playoffs. Now? They’re looking like they might not even make it! It’s starting to look like it will be 2004 redux in the American League–Yankees over Twins, Red Sox over Angels, Red Sox over Yankees. (I may be a tad biased on that ALCS prediction, but the Red Sox do hold the advantage in the season series, 9-6.) The Tigers have gone ice cold and are just 2 games ahead of the Twins. It looks like an interesting postseason is coming up.
Interesting week in baseball; I think the “three-ring circus” metaphor applies. The third ring: Mark Buehrle. Coming off of a perfect game (and 28 consecutive batters retired dating back to the final one of his previous start), Buehrle retired the first 17 batters he faced to break the record of 41 straight shared by former San Francisco Giant Jim Barr and current Buehrle teammate Bobby Jenks before giving up a two-out walk. One batter later, he lost the no-hitter, and one batter after that, he lost the shutout and the Sox’ recently-earned 1-0 lead. He then proceeded to retire only one of the five batters he faced in the seventh inning and got charged with 5 runs, the last scoring as an inherited runner after he’d been relieved, and the loss. When it’s over, it’s really over. The second ring: trades. The Pirates continue to sell, sending Jack Wilson and Ian Snell to the Mariners for Ronny Cedeno, Jeff Clement, and three minor leaguers, then swapping Freddy Sanchez straight-up for a minor leaguer from the Giants, and finally shipping John Grabow and Tom Gorzelanny to the Cubs for three minor leaguers. Weirdest of all, they sent a Double-A pitcher to Toronto for future considerations. The Mariners, however, are not quite so sure they are buyers, sending Jarrod Washburn to Detroit for
two minor league pitchers a minor leaguer and a rookie pitcher–but then again, Washburn’s trade value is at its peak, as he’s having a career year. The Dodgers acquire George Sherrill from the O’s for two minor leaguers and send Claudio Vargas to the Brewers for one minor leaguer, while Oakland also continues to sell, sending Orlando Cabrera to the Twins for a minor leaguer. The big deal, of course, is Cliff Lee being sent to the Phillies along with Ben Francisco in exchange for four minor leaguers. And the center ring: PEDs. Two more of the 104 names from 2003 leak out–then-teammates Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz. Papi releases a statement that he was “blindsided” and that he’ll find out what it is he’s been accused of taking, and when he does, he’ll share it with the team and the public, saying he wants to be open and not make excuses. Um…right. Sounds kind of like an excuse to me. Other members of the 2003 Red Sox weighed in as well. Nomar Garciaparra, in Boston as a member of the visiting A’s, dropped the bombshell that because players were led to believe there would be no names attached to the tests, only numbers, some players opted to not take the test and just be put down as positive so as to drive up the number towards the mandatory 5% because they wanted testing. Excuse me for a moment, news just broke that Victor Martinez has been traded to the Boston Red Sox for Justin Masterson and two Single-A pitchers. Back to the PED issue, Garciaparra also said that one team, the Chicago White Sox, he thinks there were like 7 or 8 guys who did that. Meanwhile, completely unprompted, Bronson Arroyo said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if he was one of the 104, saying that he took the steroid precursor androstenedione (which wasn’t banned at the time) but stopped after he’d heard rumors that due to lax production standards, some of it might be laced with steroids, as well as taking amphetamines, which were not banned until 2006. This is what is generally known as “damage control”–preemptive action in case something unsavory comes out. Arroyo spent most of the 2003 season with the Red Sox’ Triple-A affiliate in Pawtucket (where he pitched a perfect game) rather than with the major league club, so this all definitely seems suspect, and introducing the idea of the then-legal andro that may have been tainted, well, it’s creating an excuse before there’s even anything to be making an excuse for! And yet, it’s still the first time I can remember a player admitting using anything without being prompted by a news story about their drug use breaking since Jose Canseco himself. Speaking of Canseco, he now says that a member of the Hall of Fame used, but refuses to say who it is. Trying to drum up publicity for a third book, perhaps?
Update: Red Sox making trade moves again! I had a feeling when the Red Sox got Adam LaRoche that he might not be staying in Boston long, and sure enough, rumor has it that he’ll be heading back to his former team, the Atlanta Braves, straight-up for Casey Kotchman.
Another Update: Scott Rolen from Blue Jays to Reds; no details yet. Wait, first detail is that Rolen has to waive a no-trade clause in order to make it happen.
Next update: Joe Beimel from Nats to Rockies for two minor leaguers; Jerry Hairston Jr. from Reds to Yankees for a minor leaguer. Also missed from previous days: Josh Anderson from Tigers to Royals for cash; Brian Anderson for Mark Kotsay straight-up; Ryan Garko from Indians to Giants for a minor leaguer.
Post-deadline news break number 1: Nick Johnson goes from Washington to Florida for a minor-league LHP.
Post-deadline news break number 2: Jake Peavy will be going to the White Sox, after all. Chicago tried to make this deal before and failed to convince Peavy to waive his no-trade clause, but this time, he apparently decided to relent. Clayton Richard, who was supposed to start for the White Sox tonight, was among the group that Chicago sent to San Diego, along with three minor leaguers, two of which have major league experience. Also, details are coming in on the Rolen deal, and Edwin Encarnacion is among the players Toronto will receive in return. Sounds like the trades have returned to the center ring, after all, even with Halladay still a Blue Jay.
Ah, now this is the type of night Passed Ball likes to see. Let’s start in Pittsburgh, where the Pirates faced the Brewers, who had won 17 straight against them. Leading 7-2, the Bucs oddly allow reliever Jeff Karstens to bat in the eighth inning (wait, the Pirates moved him to the bullpen? Are they assuming that this was a fluke?) This is important because in his last appearance against the Brewers, Karstens hit Ryan Braun with a pitch–and the Brewers got their revenge, plunking him to start a bench-clearing brawl. Karstens and the Pirates would have the last laugh, however, as the former came around to score to extend the lead to 8-2 and the Bucs broke the losing streak with an 8-5 win. On to our nation’s capital, where it was the same old story–Washington loses again, 6-2 to the Mets, dropping to 26-66. They’re 54 losses away from tying the major league record with 70 games left to play. Just saying. Anyway, a real wild one in Oakland, where the visiting Twins got off to a 12-2 lead after 2.5 innings. Let it be noted that heavy early scoring doesn’t always lead to victory–just ask the Rangers, who in 2006 were 0-2 when scoring their tenth run of the game in the third inning. (If memory serves me correctly, they didn’t actually lead by ten in either of those games, leading 10-1 in the first of those two and 12-4 in the second). Sure enough, the A’s roared back to get within 12-7 after 4 innings, taking a 14-13 lead with a 7-run 7th and holding on with a disputed third out call in the top of the ninth. (Justin Morneau was quite clearly safe with the tying run, but replays are not allowed on those types of calls, so the Twins were robbed.) The Rays almost put on a smaller rally, after the White Sox had a 4-1 lead after 3. Bobby Jenks, summoned in the ninth to protect a 4-3 lead, was less than perfect. After striking out the first two batters he faced, he gave up a walk, a single, and another walk and went to a 3-ball count on Jason Bartlett before finally striking him out to end the threat. All I can say, Bobby, is what is the deal with that beard??? Seriously, does he bleach it or something? Back to the National League, where aside from the Nationals, the NL East had a stellar night, the Braves scoring heavily in the late innings to top the Giants 11-3, the Phillies applying steady pressure in a 10-1 thrashing of the Cubs, and the Marlins nipping the Padres 3-2. Of note is that Giants loss, for it opens the door for…the Colorado Rockies! The Rockies, who had bottomed out at 20-32 following a June 3 loss to Houston and had a worse record than any team other than the Nationals, climbed to 51-42 with their 10-6 win over Arizona yesterday, giving them the lead in the NL Wild Card race. From second-worst in the majors to second-place in the division (and with a better record than one of the other two division leaders, at that) in just 47 days, a 31-10 run. This is much greater than their late run in 2007. This is incredible. And with more than two months remaining in the season, they have a chance to even take the division, now sitting just 8 back of the dominant Dodgers, winners again last night thanks to homers by Manny Ramirez and Andre Ethier. The LA area’s other team got rained out in Kansas City; Angels and Royals will play a doubleheader today.